Tannins are the reason that many people don’t like red wine. When you drink a young Cabernet Sauvignon, that puckery, astringent feeling that fills your mouth is caused by the tannins in the wine. Notice I didn’t say that you taste the tannins. Tannins are tasteless and odorless; you feel rather than taste them. Tannins contribute (or detract) from what is called the mouth feel of wine. There is a tendency to confuse tannic with dry. Dry means not sweet, as in low sugar content. A dry wine can also be tannic, but all dry wines are not tannic.Tannins react with proteins, such as the ones found in saliva, causing the astringent sensation in your mouth. Tannic red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, are frequently paired with high protein foods, such as red meat, to minimize the wine’s astringency. Some wine drinkers like the mouth feel that moderate amounts of tannins provide, most novice wine drinkers do not. The control of tannins is a key factor in producing quality red wines.
Tannins occur naturally in the skin, stems and seeds of wine grapes and to a lesser degree in the oak barrels in which wine is aged. The amount of natural tannins found in grapes varies with the variety; Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Syrah being among the most tannic grape varieties. Both red and white wine grapes contain tannins. However since the process of making white wine immediately separates the juice from the grape skin and seeds, very few tannins are transferred to white wine. On the other hand, the process of making red wine requires the juice be left in contact with the grape skin and seeds for a long period of time. This prolonged contact with the grape skin and seeds contributes the red color and much of the complexity that characterizes red wines. It also allows tannins to be transferred to the red wine.
As a wine ages, its tannins will be chemically transformed and become softer to the taste. Tannins also act as a preservative, protecting the wine as it ages. So highly tannic wines require aging before they can be fully enjoyed and those same tannins protect the wine from spoilage during the aging process. There are artificial methods of removing tannins during the wine making process as well as artificial methods of increasing them if desired.
Most wine makers don’t want to put their tannic wines in a cave for 10 years before they can sell them, so blending has become a standard practice. Blending a tannic Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot or some other less tannic grape variety can create a wine that, while a blend, has many of the favorable characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon without the harsh tannins. So blending can produce drinkable young wines and allow the wine maker to sell his product more quickly after production.
I need to update last week’s Wine by the Glass column. Since writing the column I have gotten into the habit of actually counting the number of by-the-glass wines on restaurant wine lists. I am happy to report that Raffa’s, Zammitti's and Carabbas all have 18 or more by-the-glass wines on their lists. Larry Martin has just revised the list at Zammitti's and has added some great new wines.
Here are three wines you might want to try. The Benziger has more tannins than the Estancia; the Fume has none. These and many other wines are posted on my blog at www.virtualwineknow.com.
Name: Benziger Cabernet Sauvignon
Grape(s): Cabernet Sauvignon
Appellation: Sonoma County California
Maker: Benziger Family Winery
Profile: Spice, berry flavors, black currant, cherry, chocolate, tobacco, plum and vanilla flavors. Full bodied, dry.
Name: The Fume Sauvignon Blanc
Grape(s): Sauvignon Blanc
Appellation: Sonoma Country
Profile: Crisp, citrus, green apple, melon, light, dry. Also known as Fume' Blanc
Name: Estancia Cabernet Sauvignon
Grape(s): Cabernet Sauvignon
Appellation: Paso Robles California
Profile: Black currant, cherry, plum and vanilla. Full bodied, dry.
A note about vintage – If you can’t find a vintage shown in Cellar Notes, with some significant exceptions, you may find the next vintage year very similar. Modern viticulture and production methods have reduced, although not eliminated, dramatic year-to-year variation.